A Workforce for the Future

A thriving agri-food sector in Illinois is contingent upon attracting and retaining a workforce prepared for the future.

Did you know Illinois’ agri-food sector is the top economic generator in the state and a significant contributor to workforce? Illinois jobs directly related to food and agriculture, including farming and ranching, manufacturing and wholesale and retail functions, total over 900,000, representing nearly 15 percent of all Illinois employment. These jobs represent $34 billion in wages and generate an economic output of $147 billion dollars. When you add in the many industry-related indirect jobs, there are over 1.4 million jobs representing 23% of Illinois’ workforce and contributing $267 billion to the economy.[1]

Illinois’ agri-food sector is facing a critical workforce and skills gap, however, that if left unaddressed will affect the sector’s long-term economic sustainability, societal vibrancy, and resiliency.

  • There is a shortfall in qualified, diverse professionals in food and agriculture, and businesses are reporting difficulty in attracting qualified and skilled workers[2]
  • Misperceptions and lack of knowledge exists regarding career paths in the industry
  • Primary K-12 institutions are under resourced to teach about and showcase food and agriculture job and career opportunities[3]
  • 2- and 4-Year academic institutions are struggling to attract agri-food students and provide students skillsets demanded by industry today
  • The agri-food sector lacks racial and gender diversity
  • Fewer and fewer people have direct ties to agriculture, meaning the traditional pool of recruits is dwindling
  • Today’s generations want to “work for a purpose” and seek out companies and organizations that align with their values
  • Competition for talent is fierce in urban and rural areas alike
  • There are limited workforce activities and initiatives in place that focus exclusively on the breadth of the agri-food sector.
  • Currently available data isn’t necessarily comprehensive of the sector, systems-based, timely, or focused on future needs.

[1] Feeding the Economy, https://feedingtheeconomy.com/
[2] USDA NIFA/Purdue, https://www.purdue.edu/usda/employment/
[3]  Illinois Agriculture Education Teaching Vacancies, https://www.ilaged.org/jobopenings

Creative solutions that target systemic issues and collaborative cross-sector engagement are needed.

A consortium of agri-food businesses, academic institutions, non-profit organizations, and philanthropist are banding together to understand the future workforce landscape, assess areas for improvement, and advance opportunities that will position Illinois as a premier destination for attracting, training, and retaining a skilled and diverse workforce.

Illinois Agri-Food Workforce Initiative Collaborators:

Archer Daniels Midland Lisa Kitchens, Manager, Workforce Developer – Decatur Complex
Archer Daniels MidlandLori Racine, Campus Recruiting Manager
Association of Illinois Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Michael Woods, Chief Executive Officer
BRANDT Professional Agriculture – Rodney Riech, Director of Marketing
Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences – Sheila Fowler, Former Assistant Principal
CNH Industrial – Dana Fritsche, HR Director and Talent Acquisition Lead 
CNH Industrial – Michelle Javaherian, Community Impact Manager – Sustainability, CNH Industrial Foundation Officer
Community Food Navigator – Nick Davis, Managing Director
Compeer Financial – Missy Roth, Senior Human Resources Business Partner
Cook County Farm Bureau – Katrina Milton, Director of Ag Literacy
Decatur Public Schools Foundation – Zach Shields, Executive Director
Facilitating Coordination in Agriculture Education (FCAE) – Dean Dittmar, Former Facilitating Coordinator
Facilitating Coordination in Agriculture Education (FCAE) – Jennifer Waters, LPS State Coordinator
Farm Foundation – Todd Price, VP of the Innovation and Education Campus
GROWMARK, Inc. Amie Hasselbring, Member and Student Recruiting Manager
Illinois AgTech Accelerator – Jack Marck, Managing Director
Illinois Farm Business Farm Management (FBFM) – Kal Keitel, Human Resources Director
OSI Group – Julie Yeary, Senior Manager, Talent Acquisition
Parkland College – Derrick Baker, Dean, Career and Technical Education
Project Exploration – Cachetta Potts, Communications Manager
University of Illinois, College of ACES – Caitlin Morris, Academic Advisor & Recruitment Coordinator
University of Illinois, College of ACES – Steve Wald, Director of External Communications and Government Relations

ILAFA’s workforce initiative makes the news!

FarmWeek’s Kay Shipman reported on the Illinois Council for Agricultural Education’s (ILCAE) convening, where ILAFA’s Managing Director, Tyler Strom and Facilitating Coordination in Agricultural Education (FCAE) State Coordinator, Dean Dittmar introduced the AGNITOR as well as our new Agri-Food Career Coordinator position. Read Kay Shipman’s article Ag being taught to more students; plans underway to reach more, for a deeper look at ag education in Illinois and how ILAFA and FCAE are making a difference!

If you are interested in partnering or supporting this program, please contact shanell@ilagrifood.org